During the Winter Meetings Wrap-Up Podcast Spectacular, Messrs. Palwikowski and Cameron brought up the strange ambiance at the Winter Meetings in the age of Twitter. It was truly weird to witness the crowded media room, full of writers tracking stories on various websites, and contemplate why we had all gone through the trouble of arriving in one space to do so. Couldn’t those writers stay home to do the same thing?
There are, of course, a couple of events that require a physical presence. Managers hold interviews that run like mini press conferences, there’s the job fair, and the Rule Five draft is the closeout event. Then again, beat writers are most interested in their own teams’ manager, and the manager interviews are not surprisingly best attended by writers from that team’s city. It seems those interviews could be held in the home city without much of a difference in tone or effectiveness. That leaves the job fair and the Rule Five draft – and I doubt as many media members would arrive for that event alone, as interesting as those events might be.
No, the “reason” for the event is the face-to-face time that the lobby – and the lobby bar – provide. After spending almost a day’s worth of time in that lobby, though, it’s worth wondering if the meetings will survive this digital age. While some front office members came down to the lobby, the top of the organizations were conspicuously absent. If they wanted a player, agent or other GM to meet with them, they could either call them, chat them, or invite them to their room. I did not witness a single GM in the lobby while I was there, and asking around, it seemed to be a rare event. In fact, it seemed that teams even sent one specific member of the front office (not the GM) down at certain times to gather rumors and return to the teams’ suites.
Listening to Jonah Keri’s interview of Oakland Athletics’ Assistant General Manager David Forst, it looks like there was ample reason for this absence. Forst jokes that the teams spend most of their time in their hotel rooms, ordering room service and brainstorming – and avoiding the media throng downstairs in the lobby. This is understandable, given the difficult relationship between the media and the front office, and even perhaps laudable, given the gyrations a front office person has to perform to avoid leaking important information and maintain said relationships.
But if this undercuts the remaining strength of the meetings, it’s worth wondering if the event has run its course. A cynic may point to the job-seekers, the emphasis on digital news-gathering, and lack of front office men in the lobby as a reason to give the meetings a miss. They’d have a point.
And yet, the meetings will most likely persevere. If we look to other industries for guidance, we’ll see that the major trade shows are surviving though there may be fewer resources spent upon them, and less of an emphasis on their importance. Look at this note about the Book Expo America – in a short blog post, the author admits that though the book industry is changing because of the rise of the digital space, the BEA was a lively event in 2010. As a six-year veteran of that event, I can add that there will always be place in an industry for an event that brings that industry together in one physical space for a short time. Too many connections are made, maintained, and revived for the BEA to die, even though its death has been projected for years, even though it has changed formats slightly, even though it has shrunk in size.
The Winter Meetings may be a glorified mixer, as Joe Pawlikowski said, but mixers are important. We may see some changes to the event in the future, but the Winter Meetings will survive.
Picture H/T: Alyson Footer